The key for a small business to turn leads into sales is speed. When people look for information, products, or solutions on the internet, they want instant gratification. If they have to wait for you to send back an email or wait for a phone call from you, you’ve probably already lost them. If they have to wait for you to send them something in the postal mail, you never had a shot anyway.
The first time that I realized just how critical this was, I had been in business for a few years, and my company was a preferred vendor for a training website. Every day, people would visit this website, and because it was so comprehensive, it was very difficult to navigate. As a result, a lot of people would just fill out the form on the website requesting whatever type of training that they were looking for. As soon as someone filled out the form, it automatically got posted on the secure side, so if you were one of these preferred businesses, you could login at any time and see what had been posted.
To help us all out, though, the owner of the website would send out a summary at the end of the day, so every evening about 8:00 PM or so, we’d all get an email with a list of all of the leads that came in that day.
I responded to hundreds of these leads without any turning any of those leads into sales. Then, one evening, there was a lead from someone wanting a public speaking class in Dallas. I thought, “Oh, I got this one.” And I responded to it. The next morning, I called the person and introduced myself, and she was the most cold and distant prospect I think I have ever talked to. She just said, “We’ve already chosen someone else,” and hung up. I was totally confused.
So I thought about what I should do to try and close some of these leads, and I figured that I really needed to know what everyone else was doing. I went onto the site and created a posting of my own. It was about 10:30 AM, and I put into the posting that I would only accept email proposals.
By 11:00 AM, I had already received three proposals. The first was just a generic email with a HUGE attachment that took quite a while to download. It was about 20 MB of brochures in eight separate attachments that I never really went through. The second was just a simple email saying, “If you still need help, call me.” (Okay it was a little more involved than that, but not much.) The third, though, was a beautiful, professional looking proposal. After glancing at it, I had pretty much decided that if I had really been buying a public speaking class, I would have hired that company.
By 3:00 PM, I had about 25 proposals.
By 6:30 PM, I had received almost 50 proposals.
By 8:00 PM, the time that I was typically receiving the summary email from the website, I had received over 72 proposals.
The next morning when I woke up, I had received 143 proposals. After the first 20 or so, I didn’t look at any of them – not even out of curiosity.
When new proposals kept coming in the morning (less than 24 hours since I posted the listing,) they just ticked me off. I was thinking, “What a loser! You’re number 150 on the list.” But remember, that less than 24 hours prior, I was consistently number 73 or 74 on these lists every single time. (I was the late guy that was ticking everyone off.)
I met with my team that day to share what I found out. We made a commitment to be the first to respond to every request. We only had six people working for the company, but we decided to assign one person every day just to wait for the phone to ring, one person just to wait for individual email leads to come in, and another just to wait for corporate contract requests to come in.
Our goal was to call any email inquiry back in less than five minutes. The most common comment that we started getting when we made those phone calls was, “Wow! I just hit send. You guys are really fast.”
That year we went from a small half-million dollar company to almost one and a half million dollars in sales. The next year we doubled sales again. The only thing that really changed was the speed at which we were following up with potential clients.
Typical Web Surfer
Typical web surfers will usually do something like this. They have a question and quickly do a Google search. They will scan the first page that pops up looking for a listing summary that most closely relates to what they are looking for. If they find one, they will click the link to see if an answer can be found.
Not finding the answer right away, they might fill out a web form requesting additional information.
Then they will go back to Google and look at the next listing. This one has an FAQ page, and they read a few of them and feel comfortable enough to fill out another form to get a second opinion.
Then they will go back to Google and look one more time. This time, the website has a blog with dozens of helpful articles and a few videos that look really nice. They now pick up the phone and end up getting a voicemail.
They might look at a few more listings, but most will not likely to fill out any more forms. No one wants to be bombarded with spam from a lot of websites, so they will probably be cautious about filling out more forms. They will probably only call additional listings from here on out and only if the website is very compelling.
So here is the big question…
Who is most likely to get the business?
If the owner of the third website had answered the phone instead of having the call go over to voicemail, then that person would have had a tremendous advantage over the other two companies. In fact, if the person replies to the voicemail right away, that owner still has an advantage.
In reality, the person who makes contact with the prospect first and builds rapport with the prospect is always in the driver’s seat.
However, if you respond to the email the next day, the person will answer the phone saying, “Huh? Who are you again?” The web surfer typically forgets entirely that he/she requested the information in the first place within 24 hours or less.
If the person gets a brochure in the mail a week after sending the email, well… you get the picture.
Speed is your friend in online sales. If you can’t personally follow up on the requests, then hire someone. If you can’t hire someone, then at least invest in a good email follow up system.
Don’t make your good prospects wait for you.
Move quickly. Move nimbly. And make a ton of people happy and a ton of money in the process!
Doug Staneart is the founder of The Leader’s Institute® and the creator of the Entrepreneur Boot Camp that helps small business owners grow their companies by sharing little-known secrets of successful entrepreneurs with new business owners. This article is one in a series of helpful small business lead generation tips, and you can read all of them for free on his Entrepreneur Boot Camp blog.